Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May is a solid reminder for patients who may have deferred doctor visits during the COVID-19 pandemic
(PHOENIX, Ariz. – May 24, 2022) – Arizona’s sunny climate, combined with year-round outdoor activities, can raise the skin cancer risk for many residents.
With that in mind, two doctors at Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center are urging Arizona residents to get screened for skin cancer during Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May. The doctors are concerned that some patients may have deferred routine doctor visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you live in Arizona, chances are you’ve had a lot of sun exposure,” says Jason Wiseman, MD, a surgical oncologist at Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s. “Your risk may be elevated if you live in Arizona. Take a general skin exam seriously and don’t take anything for granted.”
With more than 300 days of sunshine annually, Arizona is a paradise for outdoor activities. But all that sunshine also raises the risk of skin cancer.
“The sun, the weather, and people’s behaviors – hiking, golfing, cycling, going to lakes, tanning by the pool – all of that contributes to skin cancer risk,” says Miguel Gonzalez Velez, MD, a melanoma and sarcoma medical oncologist at Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s. “Also, the population we have, which is mostly white and Caucasian, is at higher risk.”
With more than five million cases diagnosed annually in the United States, skin cancer is the country’s most common cancer.
The number of melanoma cases – the deadliest form of skin cancer – rose 2 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to a 2020 study. According to CNN, researchers found a link between rising melanoma cases and “excessive sun exposure and indoor tanning.”
“We have been seeing a slow increase in melanoma over the last ten years, and not just here,” Dr. Gonzalez Velez says. “This has been a national problem.”
Both doctors say it is not clear if cases are rising because melanoma is becoming more common or because general practitioners are becoming adept at diagnosing the disease. “Is it really an increase, or is it just being diagnosed better?” Dr. Wiseman questions.
Dr. Gonzalez Velez and Dr. Wiseman remind residents to use sunscreen and wear hats and long sleeves when spending long stretches outdoors and to get general skin exams to screen for skin cancer in its earliest stages.
“In general, the basic recommendations that we advise to prevent skin cancer don’t change,” Dr. Gonzalez Velez says, “But the fact that we mention them multiple times doesn’t make them less relevant either.”
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